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Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz


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... but I'm not crazy about it.

I dunno. I've been spending a lot of time with it for the last week and a half or so, and I just can't make any sense out of it. To me, it's just wearying. I suspect that many here will disagree, however, and I'd love for someone to change my mind.

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I dunno. I've been spending a lot of time with it for the last week and a half or so, and I just can't make any sense out of it. To me, it's just wearying. I suspect that many here will disagree, however, and I'd love for someone to change my mind.

I need to listen to the album a few more times before I can say for sure, but I have a sinking feeling that I might agree with you.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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I'm playing three iterations of 'I Want to be Well' simultaneously at different points in the song, and it sounds all right! At least, it really sounds like something he could have done, like a lost bit from the album

Edited by KShaw

Everything that matters is invisible.

-- Robert Bresson

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Here I will prove just what a lamer I am--- I like the idea of the experimentalism and such, but the f-bomb thing ruins it for me, as it makes it an album I couldn't play with my kids in the room. So there you have it. It probably won't end up here. Maybe back in my pre-kiddy days I would have bought the album, but yeah. Limited resources and impressionable toddlers have massively changed my listening styles and preferences...

(anyone want some used but good condition metal CDs? ;))

To clarify: I'm not meaning to accuse Sufjan or anyone of anything. Just my standards, rightly or wrongly, for what I'll listen to, have changed, largely due to having munchkins underfoot. And I genuinely appreciate knowing that Sufjan has used salty language, as it simply makes my purchasing decision easier. That's all.

Edited by metalfoot
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Here I will prove just what a lamer I am--- I like the idea of the experimentalism and such, but the f-bomb thing ruins it for me, as it makes it an album I couldn't play with my kids in the room. So there you have it. It probably won't end up here. Maybe back in my pre-kiddy days I would have bought the album, but yeah. Limited resources and impressionable toddlers have massively changed my listening styles and preferences...

(anyone want some used but good condition metal CDs? ;))

To clarify: I'm not meaning to accuse Sufjan or anyone of anything. Just my standards, rightly or wrongly, for what I'll listen to, have changed, largely due to having munchkins underfoot. And I genuinely appreciate knowing that Sufjan has used salty language, as it simply makes my purchasing decision easier. That's all.

FWIW, the f-bomb is only in one song on the record.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Sufjan talks to the Irish Times:

Lyrically, the album also feels more personal. There is no imperative to write about a US state or a New York roadway. It could be the most honest work he’s ever done. Was it liberating to do that, to try something different?

“Yes, liberating is an appropriate word, because I felt burdened by the conceptual weight of my previous records,” Stevens says. “I just wanted to be straightforward, and it was necessary for me to shake it up a little bit. It is more personal, because I didn’t have an object to project meaning on to, so I was left with my own instincts, my own emotional impulses. I was very consciously refining the language . . . Well, not refining it, but reducing it to core, fundamental principles about love and loneliness. It was about allowing myself to express those feelings in very matter-of-fact, almost cliched terms. The size of the album” – it has 11 tracks – “is a response to all the theatrical clutter that characterised all my previous work. I was getting tired of that self-conscious, rambling psychobabble. I got really sick of myself and my own flawed, epic approach to everything.”

I find it interesting that he talks about reacting to the "theatrical clutter" of previous albums considering the cacophony (and I don't mean that necessarily negatively) of The Age of Adz and the fact that the album ends with a 25 minute song.

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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And Sufjan would rather you didn't take that deal.

Meanwhile:

Is it good to work with people who have faith? I guess it wouldn’t be as easy working with drug addled lunatics right?

SS: Hahaha. [Pause] What’s the question?

I should probably rephrase it. You’re a Christian, so it’s probably easier to work with Christians than some heathen hoovering up cocaine every day...

SS: Yeah. [Long pause] What?!

What I’m asking is, is it easier to work with somebody in the same faith instead of somebody of a secular disposition?

SS: [Pintersque pause] Ahhh no, not at all. I don’t draw lines when it comes to my work. People I work with come from all over the place. There’s heathens and potheads in my band. I love them all, so...

Being an artist of some repute do you find the calling to spread the Good News sits awkwardly with your profile? Is it difficult?

SS: Not necessarily, you know, I think the Good News is about grace and hope and love and a relinquishing of self to God. And I think the Good News of salvation is kind of relevant to everyone and everything.

I find as I get older due to a sequence of events spirituality becomes more intriguing, though having been indoctrinated with the hard line dogma that I’d go to hell if I didn’t follow certain practices and believe very specific things, I was quite angry about Christianity for a while.

SS: Oh dear.

I suppose you could call it Protestant guilt.

SS: The church is an institution and it’s incredibly corrupt obviously, but that’s because it’s full of dysfunctional people and people who are hurt and battered and abused. It’s very normal in any institution to have that kind of level of dysfunction. That’s unfortunate. I find it very difficult, I find church culture very difficult you know; I think a lot of churches now are just fundamentally flawed. But that’s true for any institution you know, that’s true for education, universities and it’s definitely true for corporations because of greed, and I think part of faith is having to be reconciled with a flawed community. But the principles, I don’t think the principles have changed. They can get skewed and they can get abused and dogma can reign supreme, but I think the fundamentals, it’s really just about love. Loving God and loving your neighbour and giving up everything for God. The principles of that, the basis of that is very pure and life changing.

Do you believe that God can be reached through other faiths? John 3:16 categorically states Jesus is "the way, the truth and the life" and nobody can get to the Father expect through him. A lot of people take that very literally and don’t believe you can find spirituality through Buddhism or Islam or whatever...

SS: Yeah, I mean who can know the mind of God and who can be his counsellor? It’s not man’s decision, you know. If God is infinite and he’s in all of us and he created the world then I feel there is truth in every corner. There’s a kind of imprint of his life and his breath and his word and everything. You know, I’m no religious expert, and I don’t make any claims about the faith. All I can account for is myself and my own belief and that’s a pretty tall order just to take account of myself. I can’t make any claims about other religions. There’s no condemnation in Christ, that’s one of the fundamentals of Christianity.

There's a lot more in this interview. Wow.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Okay, I'll say it. I'm thoroughly unimpressed. I miss, oh, I don't know, songs. Until now, even on those florid 75-minute works, Sufjan's prodigious wankery has always been subservient to great songs. After a couple listens to The Age of Adz, I suspect that the formula may have been reversed this time.

I'm glad to have someone back me up on this; now I KNOW I'm not crazy.

Many, I suspect, will be praising the album for its complexity, but I am inclined to say that simplicity would have served Sufjan better.

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Okay, I'll say it. I'm thoroughly unimpressed. I miss, oh, I don't know, songs. Until now, even on those florid 75-minute works, Sufjan's prodigious wankery has always been subservient to great songs. After a couple listens to The Age of Adz, I suspect that the formula may have been reversed this time.

I'm glad to have someone back me up on this; now I KNOW I'm not crazy.

Many, I suspect, will be praising the album for its complexity, but I am inclined to say that simplicity would have served Sufjan better.

I'm not opposed to complexity, per se. Sufjan has done stark minimalism (Seven Swans) and he's done over-the-top maximalism (Illinois), and he's done both very well. What I'm missing this time is some semblance of hooks; something to hold on to in the midst of all the careening styles and layered mayhem. This often just sounds like mayhem for mayhem's sake. I have a sneaking suspicion that Sufjan may have just unleashed this decade's version of Tales From Topographic Oceans, Yes's bombastic mid-'70s flop. There's a whole lot of sound and fury signifying, if not nothing, then at least little more than amelodic navel gazing.

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Okay, I'll say it. I'm thoroughly unimpressed. I miss, oh, I don't know, songs. Until now, even on those florid 75-minute works, Sufjan's prodigious wankery has always been subservient to great songs. After a couple listens to The Age of Adz, I suspect that the formula may have been reversed this time.

I'm glad to have someone back me up on this; now I KNOW I'm not crazy.

I've got your back, too. I've listened to the album several times, and there's nothing there that really grabs and sticks with me. Even "Djohariah", which is full of wankery, there's a vocal hook or two in the song's second half that redeems the entire song... for me, anyways.

I'm not ruling out a "light bulb" moment where the album clicks for me. However, if I want to hear Sufjan get all freaky and cacophonic, I'll stick with Enjoy Your Rabbit for now.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Good interview. I was reading it, wondering if Sufjan was going to bypass Paul's writings altogether -- lots of Christians just love to do that, for some reason -- when the questioner put the subject to him directly. Honestly, are we supposed to take this question seriously? I don't know enough about where the interviewer's coming from to know if he spoke the question in jest, but Sufjan, who I was afraid might giggle and say something sarcastic or deliberately cryptic, went right at it. Atta boy!

The Gospels are a good read, and then you get Paul ruining everything with his right wing attitudes.

SS: Well Paul is a good reference for the character of church institutions, the setting down of cultural principles. Because God is the church and the church is an institution and the institution is culture; you have to reckon with all the trappings of culture and that’s kind of what Paul designed. You know, that was his role. You can’t read it without looking at it in the cultural context of the time and place, it’s inherent you know.

Church originally was a body of people and it had nothing to do with a building.

SS: I mean it’s weird. What’s the basis of Christianity? It’s really a meal, it’s communion right? It’s the Eucharist. That’s it, it’s the sharing a meal with your neighbours and what is that meal? It’s the body and blood of Christ. Basically God offering himself up to you as nutrition. Haha, that’s pretty weird. It’s pretty weird if you think about that, that’s the basis of your faith. You know, God is supplying a kind of refreshment and food for a meal. Everything else is just accessories and it’s vital of course, baptism and marriage, and there’s always the sacraments and praying and the Holy Spirit and all this stuff but really fundamentally it’s just about a meal.

And there’s the cross of course. It’s an extremely powerful symbol and it has permeated into some of the greatest art and literature of the last couple of thousand years, but it’s peculiar that people wear an object that represents the putting to death of their Lord.

SS: It’s really morbid. It’s a really morbid symbol you know. It is very grotesque when you start thinking about it. But it’s also beautiful you know, it’s the ultimate sacrifice. And I think it relates to the meal as well because it’s Christ giving up his blood and flesh as food and that then itself is the giving up of his body for eternal life, therefore salvation. Whatever that means...”

I don’t know. It’s all a bit of a mystery to me.

SS: It’s the most important thing to me really but it’s also really important I don’t get too caught up in it. There’s a necessity for casualness, you know, because I think fear and anxiety are not elements in faith. And I think doubt is important and questioning and all that. I think there’s been too much made from fear and condemnation to manipulate people. I think that’s an atrocity really.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I'm with this. I still stand by the complete supersaturation going in this record. It's not too much (pun intended) for me. I really think this is the most personal album we've got from Sufjan and I'm not surprised he had to counter that intimacy by pushing the listener away with a cacophony of overstimulation. It's fascinating when seen on a more personal level.

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Oh dear. That interview is just too much. I love Sufjan even more now and it pains me to have to stay away from this record because of my own lameness.

(In the interest of full disclosure, what he has to say about the Eucharist is not too distant from the Lutheran view of it... and being a Lutheran pastor... yeah. Just sayin'.)

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I'm really digging it on my second time through.

My only complaint is that it's not paced very well. If he wants to live in Radiohead soundscapes, he needs to give us room to breathe. Radiohead has mastered that. Their "National Anthem"-level tornadoes are occasional, not perpetual. This album is a hurricane, beginning to end, with too few moments for us to catch our breath and get our bearings.

But I'm finding enough songcraft in the noise to hold my attention, and the lyrics are really interesting. It seems to me to reveal his personal faith and struggles more clearly than anything that he's done, even as it's his most abrasively uncensored expression. It will frustrate those who don't want him to be religious, just as it will frustrate those Christian listeners who want their lyrics sanitized of ugly expression.

I find its tensions captivating. No, it's not the kind of album where you'll find a "Casimir Pulaski Day." But I like what it is. And I'm guessing its going to age well.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I dunno, some of the bits of Sufjan's half that have been quoted here seem almost ripe for parody. (The "necessity for casualness"?) But then, I'm not as attuned to the hipster wavelength as some people are. And his comments about the Eucharist are ... debatable ... to say the least. Or at least they require some clarification -- but everything about Sufjan's "necessarily casual" style seems to resist clarity.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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